Ever since the Libyan uprising began last February, the small Mediterranean island of Malta which I call home has been a vital cog in the vast humanitarian machine in operation. It started as an evacuation hub for thousands of people and then became a critical transit point for humanitarian aid. Several months later, Malta continues to play its part.
I got the call to head to Malta’s international airport VIP lounge around lunchtime, to photograph Shwejga Mullah arriving on the island for medical treatment. Shwejga Mullah is the Ethiopian nanny who was recently discovered weak and alone in the home abandoned by deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son Hannibal. It’s been reported that Hannibal’s wife Aline threw boiling water over her, causing horrific scald burns and scars, when she did not stop his daughter from crying and refused to beat the child.
As she was being brought over in a private plane chartered by the Maltese government, there wasn’t going to be any need to shoot on a long lens from outside the airport perimeter fence. The government officials wanted to show the world that Malta was still playing a crucial humanitarian role in the Libya crisis. We would be allowed right up to the foot of the stairs of the aircraft, so just 2 camera bodies, one with a 70-200mm lens and the other with a wide angle would be necessary. This was what all the other photographers were doing.
But this was one of those instances in which a persistent voice in my head kept telling me I was going to need something longer. So, I decided to take my 6kg (13 pound) 400mm f/2.8 lens with me.
The arrival of the plane kept being pushed further back. What should have been a fifteen minute wait soon stretched into a three hour wait.